Happy Opening Day! It’s a week later than usual, but we’re all getting a full season of baseball goodness, so it’s hard to be too upset about timing. It’s also hard to be too upset about our performance in 2021. We raked in the cash on article plays last summer, and I hope we’ll be able to say the same thing once again in six months’ time, as we start April with a clean slate and a record of 0-0.
As this is the first article of the new season, forgive my indulgence into a couple of futures bets. Going forward, we’ll mostly be sticking to bets you make night of. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
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While Carlson was certainly better as a right-handed hitter in 2021, the presence of J.T. Brubaker allows me to overcome those particular splits. Also, while Carlson’s 150 wRC+ against southpaws for the season as a whole dwarfed his 102 mark versus RHPs; the switch-hitter was well above-average when facing a righty in St. Louis, where he finished the year with an .800 OPS and a 124 wRC+ in a 232 plate appearance sample.
Meanwhile, Brubaker just can’t get lefties out. The Pirates’ RHP struggled with the long ball in general across 124.1 innings last season, yet it was LHBs that haunted him the most. In fact, over Brubaker’s final 10 starts of 2021, he surrendered a ghastly .698 slugging percentage and a .442 wOBA to opposing left-handed bats. Now batting leadoff for the Cardinals, Carlson should get at least two cracks at Brubaker as a lefty, then likely three more plate appearances against an underwhelming (on paper) Pittsburgh bullpen.
By now, I’m sure anyone with even a passing interest in baseball and access to a Twitter account has seen ZIPS standings projection for the AL East. I mean, if you can call predicting a four-way tie a projection and not just fence-sitting. That’s right. 88 wins apiece for the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Rays and the Red Sox. It’s a hilarious prediction, yet one that rings true, as the 2021 AL East was the first division in the Wild Card era to feature four teams with 90-plus victories. Three of those teams made the playoffs — the Yankees, the Rays and the Red Sox — and unfortunately for anyone with a similar ticket in their pocket, the trio proceeded to cannibalize themselves in the bracket.
However, in 2022, all four of those squads would get a seat at the table, as MLB has transitioned into a 12-team playoff field. Heck, if ZIPS full projection ends up prophetic, the AL East would in fact earn all three Wild Card spots and create a scenario where 66.7% of the American League’s playoff teams are coming from a single division. That’s probably a bit of a pipe dream with competitive rosters in places like Minnesota and Seattle to consider; but I’m confident at least three East teams will make it to the playoffs this year. If that happens, there’s a lot of value in this bet.
The top of the board is stacked for this award. You’ve got the reigning champion in Shohei Ohtani (+350), the man on pace to be arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport in Mike Trout (+450) and the former top prospect in baseball coming off leading the league in home runs in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (+500). It’s going to take quite the statistical campaign to unseat these giants.
Still, if you’re aiming for pure upside, there’s a chance no one possesses more than Buxton. The outfielder has been tantalizing fans with partial seasons for more than a half-decade, and none were more impressive than his 61 games in 2021. Even if you don’t want to understand what fWAR measures, just know that’s it’s an accumulation stat. The more you play, the higher mark you can earn. Buxton, despite being limited to only 254 plate appearances last season, ended his year with a 4.2 fWAR — the 19th-highest mark in the AL. Buxton played 61 games and was worth more wins than full seasons from Teoscar Hernandez, Yordan Alvarez and Salvador Perez. This is what can happen when an elite defensive talent also posts the second-best wRC+ (169) and the 12th-best xwOBA (.405) among assets with at least 250 PAs.
Can Buxton replicate 90% of that output across a full slate of games? Can he ever actually play a full season? Those are huge questions and, if he does, it’s possible I’d vote for the Twins head trainer as MVP. Yet, it’s an outcome that’s possible, and if Buxton can pull it off while helping Minnesota back to playoffs, he’ll have the stats and the narrative.
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